One dose of Wayne Hancock's piercing nasal voice should hook you. On his superb debut album, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs (Dejadisc), the rough-and-tumble Texan, who first attracted attention with his role in Jo Carol Pierce's music-theater piece Chippy, invokes the spirit of old-time honky-tonk, particularly the liquor-cured wail of Hank Williams, right down to the parched yodels. On paper, Hancock and his crack ensemble might seem like unabashed purists, stuck in a musical era they never lived through as they eschew drums in favor of percussive, thumping upright bass. But live, they are as vibrant as anything I've heard in the last few years. Hancock may not be the tragic poet Williams was, but there's no question that his music provides an infectious good time. His liquid warble can exude pathos or incite wild dancing--at least when he plays joints down in Austin. His songs cover the usual hillbilly topics--girls, drifting, girls--but a tune like the smoking "Double A Daddy" cleverly twists the lusty male bravado of a drinking song and brags about 12-step abstention. With Hancock behind the wheel everyone else can slug the hooch until they pass out. Hancock's feel for the stylistic terrain he traverses couldn't be more natural; complementing his honky-tonk base are generous, intuitive splashes of buoyant swing, lonesome two-beat, and early rockabilly. On the Lloyd Maines-produced album, Hancock's regular trio--bassist Ric Ramirez and guitarist Bob Stafford--is helped by plenty of dazzling instrumentalists, particularly the Speedy West-like steel guitarist Herb Steiner. But the engine that drives the music is the combination of Hancock's acoustic guitar and Ramirez's furious bass; the remainder is icing. This is Hancock's Chicago debut. Saturday, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Jaqua.